Leaving India (for the first time) (Matt)
Apr 19, 2007
|After three and a half months, we are leaving India. Not permanently; we'll be back for a short time after Nepal. But it makes our return to Mumbai from Goa a time of endings, of wrapping-things-up and thinking-things-over.
Eighteen days with Trish and Sean passed like there were only five, and after a brief day of shopping vicariously through them, it was suddenly time for them to leave.
We stood there in the humid Bombay evening waving goodbye as their taxi sputtered its way into the night, then turned to walk slowly back to our room. We are on our own again.
Our last days in Bombay go quickly: one day we take a one hour boat trip to the Ellora-like caves at Elephanta Island; the next we take a train to Chowpatty beach and Malabar Hill, the wealthy area of Bombay. One of my main interests in Bombay is identifying some of the landmarks I've read about in Salman Rushdie's novels. Walking through the neighbourhoods where the characters lived is like visiting a movie set, only real. Our walk also takes us out of the tourist areas into places where people live and work and are puzzled why a tourist is wandering their neighbourhood. Our walk gives me a better sense of the place, though we've only seen a small fraction of the immense city of 16 million people.
The last two days in Bombay we enjoyed restaurants we found: a cheap and tasty Indian place; an American-style diner; and a woman-run bakery heaven with chocolate and banana bread for Laura.
Laura also managed to dispense of her remaining dog biscuits to the many skinny puppies and grey-bearded old dogs of the city. She only needed rescuing once from a growling, hissing monkey at Elephanta Island who decided he should have one too (a few well-placed rocks and a badly-aimed water bottle changed his mind).
What will remain lodged in my memory about Mumbai? The roadside shacks where sugarcane juice is pressed by rattling brightly coloured machines gushing juice from one side and long, shredded strands of sugarcane pulp from another. The roofs of these little shacks defy architectural logic and do not collapse despite sugarcane piled 2 metres high on top. I will remember the black and yellow taxis, ancient vehicles that somehow have survived the years, swarming the Bombay streets like ants with a death wish. At night, it is common for them to drive at high speed with no lights on, flashing them briefly for the occasional pedestrian crazy enough to get in their way. I'll remember the humidity and heat, leaving you covered in sweat after walking just a block. A breathless, still, foetid sort of humidity that coats you with its thick dampness. I'll remember the street vendors with peanuts piled high, a hot clay pot holding smouldering charcoal roasting them as it is rested atop the pile. I'll remember Chowpatty beach, its sand touched by a million feet, its water cloudy and dirty. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place. Pigeons swarm in a paved area down the beach where bags of birdfeed are scattered. Do they feed the pigeons here to keep them off the beach? Ankle deep in the water, a man crouches and defecates with his back to us.
There is so much I'll remember, or hope that I do. Bombay was an interesting city. Too expensive and lacking the relative calm of Delhi, but it has a charm nonetheless.
We bid farewell to Bombay from our taxi as we bounce toward the airport. Then, after our 3AM flight to Delhi, I say farewell to that city too. We arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal around 2PM on April 20th.
There have been so many things about India that have defied explanation. So many questions that puzzle us, so many differences. I thought, then, that I'd collect some of our favourite mysteries here. I suppose some may sound a little 'negative'... but a place with the number of problems that India has calls for some questioning, criticism, and hopefully creative solutions. Maybe someone out there will even have an answer or two?
-Why do people walk into the path of oncoming cars bearing down on them, slowly weaving their way between them defying death, when they could wait 1 minute for the light to change and know they won't die? Often a man will walk into oncoming traffic, into the path of a honking speeding car which forces him to jump backward to avoid being missed by mere inches ... only to start walking out into traffic again. Why not wait?
-In a city of 12 million people, you might guess that pedestrians would watch where they are walking to avoid getting hit, run into by other walkers, bicycles or buses. No, it is just as likely they will be staring at the sky and talking on their mobile phones. Why, after running into people over and over again, wouldn't they look in the direction they are walking?
-Why were there riots and demonstrations when Richard Gere kissed Shelpa Petty, an Indian actress, on the cheek at an AIDS conference? Why can a kiss create an angry mob, but there are 50000 child marriages a year and half of Mumbai's population lives in shanty towns, open spaces, or on pavements (for more shocking statistics check out Miscellaneous India Statistics
-Why do dogs and cows sleep in intersections with traffic swerving around them?
-Why is the cow, a sacred animal in India, left to wander city streets eating garbage, plastic bags, paper signboards and anything else they can find, often covered in sores and emaciated?
-Why is everyone so loud? Televisions are played at top volume as is music in restaurants or cafes. People talk at the volume of a yell, regardless of the time of night or morning. Is everyone hard of hearing?
-Why can't anyone wait until people exit the elevator, train, or bus before they push their way on, blocking the door for anyone trying to enter or exit?
-Why, when boarding a plane by seat numbers, does everyone immediately start pushing their way to the front regardless of where they will be sitting?
-Why do men grow the nails on their thumb and big toes so long? We've seen nails an inch long, sometimes longer.
-When I pay two rupees for a pay and use toilet that has no toilet paper, no water, no soap, no doors on the stalls, and a filthy floor, what exactly am I paying for? And why does it take three men to collect the money?
-Why do people sweep up the biodegradable leaves from the roads, but avoid sweeping up the trash?
-With plastic bottles floating in every water reservoir, scattered along roadsides, and piled in parks and natural areas, why doesn't someone start recycling them? Why doesn't anyone create a system to refill water bottles with filtered water rather than forcing you to buy a new bottle each time?
-Why do Indian people allow the poverty and homelessness in their cities to continue, when almost everyone has the money for a cell phone, nice television, and other luxuries. Companies are making lots of money, there are many people in India who are very very wealthy, and tourists spend a lot of money too, yet still the streets are filled with people sleeping on sidewalks.